Marketer: Procter & Gamble Co.
Agency: Leo Burnett USA, Chicago
Ad Review rating: One star
Well, I came upon a child of God.
He was walking along the road.
And I asked him, "Tell where you are going?"
This he told me.
Said, "I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm.
Gonna join in a rock 'n' roll band.
Got to get back to the land
and take care of hygiene.
--Joni Mitchell, more or less.
Dateline: Bethel, N.Y., the Summer of Love.
So who was there?
Let's see. Crosby, Stills & Nash were there. Richie Havens was there. Jimi Hendrix was there. Janis Joplin was there. Country Joe & the Fish were there. John Sebastian was there.
Marijuana was there. LSD was there. Speed was there.
Rain was there. Lightning was there. Mud was there.
The press was there. A documentary crew was there. The birth of a nation was there--the Woodstock Nation: tuning in, toking up and romping naked in the bog.
Yesiree, this, the most famous of all counterculture happenings, immediately conjures many familiar images, images inextricably entwined in the boomer consciousness, Of course, there were thousands of other things present at Woodstock--incidentally present--that we in no way associate with the event. They were simply there, unremarkable, unnoticed, un-unforgettable.
Shoelaces, for instance. Also coins. Toothbrushes. Rubber bands. Oil filters. Knapsacks. Chewing gum. Tampons.
Interestingly enough, until now, none of the manufacturers of those incidental items saw fit to advertise their special place in history. But in a bizarre and astonishing move by Procter & Gamble Co. and Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, a new TV spot revisits Woodstock with a montage of (fake) documentary images, followed by the simple on-screen super:
"TAMPAX WAS THERE."
Yes, no doubt it was. But whereas we still get a little lump in the throat every time we hear Richie Havens' Woodstock recording of "Handsome Johnnie," this news about tampons leaves us a little cold. Hmmm, why could that possibly be?
Ummmm, because the news is completely beside the point?
That might be it. Just as it's beside the point, in a second spot, after footage of Spring Break then and now, to observe that Tampax was there. So what? Tampax is always there, somewhere. So is the cold virus. This does not necessarily boost it in our esteem.
In trying to imagine what in the world Burnett was thinking, all we can guess is that they're trying to strike the same emotional chords Coca-Cola has plucked with "Always Coca-Cola." Heritage, ubiquity and familiarity do, after all, suggest a certain comfort--not the kind of comfort Tampax typically speaks about, and certainly not a kind of comfort typically associated with feminine hygiene products.
But that is a stretch. If Procter and Burnett wanted to get emotional on this subject, they might have straightforwardly dramatized how Tampax is a constant, passed from generation to generation. If they could construct it without one of those stilted, mother-and-daughter-walking-barefoot-in-the- surf conversations about "freshness," and instead tell credible rite-of-passage stories, the result could be very moving and very sweet.
As opposed to completely, stupefyingly ridiculous.
P&G has made its agencies aware that it is sick of its reputation for creative stodginess. Hey, better the stodginess. This isn't creative. It's simply embarrassing. They might not need to get back to the garden, but they sure need to go back to square one.
Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.